There is already a good amount of data on near-death experiences, but it has not been collected in a consistent and deliberate way in order to test specific, measurable hypotheses. One theory is that there is indeed an afterlife that a person visits after the body stops working. Another theory argues that these experiences are merely the effects of a dying, oxygen-starved brain. This theory requires better scientific testing to verify the accuracy of external observations allegedly made when the spirit of the deceased claims to have been looking around from above after his physical death. Between the two theories, it is probably easier to disprove the dying brain theory, but we need better ways to examine the afterlife theory as well.
Some evidence has been reviewed and case studies performed, such as one that correlated near-death experiences with the level of CO2 in the blood, but these are usually performed after the fact using whatever data are available. Another study associated the symptoms of a near-death experience with the G-forces on the body in an Air Force pilot centrifuge.
The ideal way in which to collect good data is to control all the conditions of a near-death experience, including pre- and post-experience interviews and the presence of witnesses such as doctors, researchers, and psychics. Ideally, a hospital should have a death protocol that could be implemented in the event that a person physically shows evidence of death, but later returns to life. Perhaps a set of video, audio, and body sensors and displays could be automatically activated as soon as the patient’s heart stops beating. The sensors could measure the conditions of the room and the patient, while the displays could present audio and video messages to test the ability of a deceased patient to perceive them.
But it would be even better to have planned, controlled experiments. Where it is legal to undergo doctor-assisted suicide (euthanasia), and with the patient’s complete permission, a near-death experience could be induced one or more times before the patient finally completes the process. I suspect that it will be possible to get volunteers for such a procedure and that it would be perfectly legal. Interviews with the medical staff and patient prior to the experiment could establish their state of mind and preconceptions about what they will experience. The patient should even be directed to try and perform certain tasks after physical death has been induced. The experience should be fully documented using technological means such as CAT scans and other body sensors, room sensors and perception tests, and paranormal means such as the use of psychics. You never know–after the initial tests, some patients may even change their mind about going through with the final procedure!
But how can the theory of an afterlife driven by near-death experience data be further tested? Near-death experiences should be further correlated with attempts to communicate with the deceased. As medical care has improved our ability to delay death, the number of survivors of near-death experiences has risen. These individuals should be sought out for a study that will continue as they approach death and beyond.